Friday, 14 January 2011

Oldham and Saddleworth

Liberal Democrats in government are clearly getting may things right (on constitutional reform, civil liberties etc) and we shouldn't forget that, but I hope our drubbing in Oldham and Saddleworth will convince our leadership that we are getting things profoundly wrong on two counts.

First and most importantly, the coalition's economic policy is wrong. It is wrong to over-egg the allegedly parlous state of the public finances, blame this on the "mess" left by Labour, and use it as an excuse for cuts in the public services which are clearly ideologically driven by the Tories, along with a rise in the most regressive of taxes. Public service pump-priming should be the order of the day until recovery is assured and the private sector responds sufficiently so that, between them, public and private sectors can provide jobs for all who want them.

Secondly, Liberal Democrats in the coalition and parliament should not be seen to be defending.even embracing, those aspects of Tory policy with which we profoundly disagree. It has been stomach-churning to see Nick Clegg patting George Osborne on the back for a profoundly illiberal budget, Danny Alexander seeming to impose cuts with more relish than even the Tories, and Vince Cable reduced to impotence in a department which, during the election, he said he'd abolish.

There are hints that Nick Clegg now realises this, and it is said that , rather than insisting the Liberal Democrats "own" all aspects of coalition policy, he will in future be more "relaxed" about acknowledging disagreements. In "22 Days in May" David Laws makes a great deal of the negative body language of the Labour team in their coalition negotiations. We should take a leaf out of this book. Whatever the practical demands of governing by coalition, stony-faced silence with eyes firmly fixed on the middle distance rather than back-slapping should in future be our response to policies contrary to our heritage, traditions and beliefs.


  1. Completely agree, but you're probably the only LD blogger to comment on the by-election realistically and with ideas to perform better in future. Everyone else is banging on about increased vote share and how well it all went.

  2. I completely agree about the need to present a different attitude to the Tory elements of the coalition. Nick & Co. seem to have the idea that if we don't seem that we're 100% united with the Tories on every issue, we'll give the impression that the government isn't stable.

    That's wholly untrue, we just need a different attitude towards what we perceive of government.

    On the result in Oldham, I'm afraid we disagree. Most of the general public with whom I've spoken since the result have commented that they were quite surprised that we did so well. I'm always disappointed in a loss, but to increase our share of the vote, even marginally, when we're struggling so much in the polls, is actually fairly remarkable.